Dogs are amazing creatures, aren’t they? For hundreds of years, they’ve stood by humans, herding flocks, guarding the homestead and providing plenty of love and companionship.
Out of all the things dogs do, though, jumping into the heat of battle is one of the most remarkable. And they’ve been doing it for centuries. The earliest record of dogs being used in war goes all the way back to 600 BC!
Today, 2,500 dogs serve in the U.S. Military, trained to track suspects, defend their units, detect drugs, and sniff out explosives. Their loyalty, bravery and high level of training make them extremely valuable to any unit they’re attached to.
So it seems only appropriate that a special day has been set aside to salute these courageous canines. National K9 Veterans Day, which falls on March 13th, honors all military and working dogs for the service and sacrifice for our nation.
In celebration, I’d like to share the stories of some of the most famous U.S. military working dogs throughout history. These are just a few of the thousands who have put their best paw forward to protect our country.
Believed to be the only dog promoted to the rank of sergeant through combat, Sergeant Stubby was the most decorated dog of World War I. The bulldog-mix served with his owner, Corporal Robert Conroy, in the 102nd Infantry Regiment in France for 18 months. He saw combat in 17 battles, had the ability to warn his unit about incoming artillery shells and gas attacks, and once caught a German spy by the seat of his pants. Sergeant Stubby was injured twice and was personally decorated for his heroics by General Pershing.
After the war, Stubby became a canine celebrity, participating in parades and meeting three presidents. Upon his death in 1926, the New York Times ran a half-page obituary. His body was preserved and is currently on display in the Smithsonian’s “Price of Freedom” exhibit.
Shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the US Military formed Dogs for Defense. Because the armed forces did not yet have a formal military dog program, they put out word that dogs were needed. Hundreds of patriotic pet owners volunteered their dogs for duty, including the owner of a German Shepherd-Collie-Siberian Husky mix named Chips.
Chips would go on to become the most decorated dog of World War II. He saw action in Germany, France, North Africa and Italy. In 1943, during the invasion of Sicily, Chips and his handler, Private John P. Rowell, were pinned down on the beach by Italian machine gun fire. Breaking away, the dog attacked the gunners, forcing them into the open where they surrendered to US troops. In 1945, Chips returned to his home and owner in Pleasantville, NY.
Stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base during the Vietnam War, Nemo was a German Shepherd who served with the US Air Force. When the Viet Cong attacked the base on the morning of December 4, 1966, Nemo was released on the enemy and suffered a gunshot wound, causing him to lose an eye.
Severely injured, Nemo crawled back to his handler, Airman Robert A. Throneburg, who had also been wounded in the attack. Nemo laid across the unconscious Throneburg, guarding him until medics arrived. Both dog and human survived, and Nemo was credited with saving Throneberg’s life. Nemo was retired to Lackland Air Force Base where he continued working as a recruiting dog until his death in 1972.
Did you know that when military working dogs retire, they’re often put up for adoption? Because of their training, they usually require a special family who understands and can accommodate their background and needs. If you’re interested in providing a home to one of our canine veterans, visit Saveavet.org for more information.